The way we remember our first misadventures with amateur homebrewing back in college – it was fun but lacking in results. Steering Alex’s Saturn toward rural Riverside on a weekday morning after loading up on black coffee and death rock CDs, we pulled in to the parking lot of “Beer Beer and More Beer,” a sort of general store for homebrewers. Where slim abdomens go to die.
We returned with a 5-gallon plastic drum and some tubing, a couple standard recipes, and plastic baggies of hop pellets, and canisters of malt extract. The first batch we made wasn’t half bad, a simple pale ale. The second batch, well, let’s just say we should have set rules about impulse brewing decisions – like adding grapefruit rind and weed straight into the fermenter. That month, we lugged clinking half-rotten beers to parties. After that, we pretty much only used the plastic tank as a drum at anti-war protests, beating on it with a metal spoon or crowbar.
That was 8 or so years ago. Since then we’ve penned hundreds of blog posts, spent thousands of dollars on beer, walked the factory line of breweries, written a beer-zine, interviewed plenty of brewers and homebrew fanatics, and racked up immeasurable research time on bar stools. And yet, we’ve never once made a move to get back on the proverbial horse, and try our hand at homebrewing again. Until this summer!
Thanks to our friend Alex Macy, an inimitable beer guide in his own right, we have thrown down the gauntlet. A couple months ago, as Macy was gearing up to lead a series of homebrew classes here in L.A., our discussion strayed to the topic of tonka beans, an exotic, nearly impossible-to-acquire ingredient that we figure no one has ever brewed with. Macy was intrigued and suggested brewing a strong beer of some sort flavored with tonka beans. We agreed it might be the best chance of brewing a beer that no one else has ever made before…
Tonka beans are tear-shaped South American seeds that look like a cross between almonds and black cockroaches. Like something that crawled out of the jungle and expired before killing you, only the things smell — and taste — rather delicious. (Think vanilla, cinnamon and that plastic-y Toys R’ Us scent.) The catch is that tonka beans can actually kill you. Because they contain a chemical called coumarin, which thins the blood, consuming more than you should can lead to liver failure. Or kidney failure. We can’t remember which exactly. But the Food and Drug Administration seems to think it’s a really bad idea. Anyway, we decided to give it a shot.
Besides cheesemongering, Alex imports nuts and spices. So he was able to get his hands on some tonka — its legal for Wiccans to use as power amulets in rituals — and we met up in Macy’s backyard to spend a recent afternoon doing a ritual not so unlike that of Wiccan priestesses: we watched a cauldron boil, added illicit substances to it, and talked about using yeasts as a natural lubricant. The result? Hot Knives’ very own porter. “Fuck the FDA Porter.” Available only for your video pleasure, for now.
Come back next week for a full report on the finished product, along with a Hot Knives review of our very own beer!
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